In general, orchestra and band conductors:
- select music that is appropriate to the talents, abilities and strengths of the group
- study musical scores to learn the music in detail and develop their own interpretation of it
- use conducting gestures to shape the music (develop colour, tone, volume, pitch and desired quality) and to keep the musicians in time
- audition instrumentalists to select musicians for their group
- schedule, prepare for and direct rehearsals.
They also may:
- contact and meet with composers to discuss interpretations of their work
- perform administrative duties, such as scheduling performances, organizing tours, negotiating recording contracts, applying for grants and budgeting
- work with music librarians to ensure musical scores are available
- work with others to produce promotional materials
- conduct guest soloists in addition to the ensemble.
Conductors usually schedule rehearsals, allowing sufficient time to prepare new works while reviewing the standard repertoire. The principal conductor or guest conductor meets separately with each soloist well in advance of a performance. They also work closely with concertmasters (principal solo violinists) in preparing for rehearsals.
A conductor’s reputation is based largely on presenting a strong, dynamic presence as a leader. This comes from exceptional talent (most conductors are outstanding performers themselves), a unique style and an ability to communicate with musicians individually and collectively.
Some conductors hold the additional role of music director of an orchestra or musical group. Music directors make artistic decisions for the group, including choosing the repertoire and guest artists for the upcoming season.
Symphony orchestras often have a general manager who works closely with the music director or conductor to handle financial matters. Overseeing the activities of the music director and general manager is a board of directors.
In larger organizations, the management team also includes an artistic administrator. This person works closely with the conductor or music director and management and is usually a member of negotiating teams.